Monday, March 7, 2011

Worth (Part 1 of 3)

I know the exact moment I fell in love with Fiona Gray. It wasn’t my finest moment and it wasn’t hers, but only because I think she’s probably had so many finer moments since then.

Halloween, kindergarten, recess and I kicked dirt over Lindsey Porter’s shoes not only because he had a girl’s name, which I didn’t like, but also because he wore no costume and I liked that even less.

He sat with his back against a long, hollow tube we’d crawl through and pretend it was a cave or a sewer. No one wanted to ruin their costumes, so it was empty that day and Lindsey sat against it with his brown hoodie bunched up around him.

“Hey, Lindsey,” I said, taunting loudly enough that everyone who wanted to laugh could hear. “What are you supposed to be? A piece of dirt or a piece of shit?”

Fiona came out of nowhere and shoved me square in the chest. I fell right down in the rubber chips and sat there like a crab all angry and confused and balanced on all fours. She stood over me and I remember she seemed impossibly tall and her sweater was my favorite color of green.

She didn’t say anything because Ms. Elliot, who only saw Fiona push me and not the part before, called her into the classroom. But she didn’t have to say anything. Her face said it all and by the time I’d climbed out of the rubber chips I was in love.

I think Lindsey probably was, too, because he watched her as much as I did after that. It didn’t bother me because I didn’t think you could be in love with something you knew was weaker than you. But there was no denying they had a connection. A quiet one and a distant one, but it was more than I had.

The only time Fiona ever looked at me was if it happened by accident and involved the perfect and rare alignment of certain stars. Even then, it took a split second for her to recall that moment in the playground when we were six years old. Her eyes would narrow and then move on. A barely there half-glare was all I was worth.

I wanted to be worth more.

It occurred to me sometime in the 8th grade that I should probably start by apologizing. And by the 10th grade, I figured that apology should go to Lindsey. So that’s what I did.

Halloween seemed appropriate for the gesture. We were in the same drawing class, so finding him was easy. Sitting next to him was also easy, but talking was not.

I flipped to a clean sheet in my sketch pad, propped it on the easel in front of me and started in on the collection of still life items on the table nearest us. I picked a funky looking vase because it was green. Beside me, Lindsey picked at the corner of his own pad while his knee bounced rapidly.

“Hey, Lindsey.” I tried to sound casual, like we spoke regularly or even ever.

His knee became still. “Porter.” He answered, defensive and I couldn’t help but feel like I had some part in his un-naming. It wasn’t a good feeling.

“Porter, then. Hey, Porter.” I tried again and wished I’d had the foresight to do a little research on apologies. I didn’t know what the first words should be.

“Yeah.” He said still picking at the corner of his closed sketch pad. “Hey, Ryan.”

I outlined the shape of the vase in light pencil, looking for the places I would use to anchor my lines and what might be the focal point while I tossed around apology-sounding phrases in my mind. I decided I wouldn’t start with “I’m sorry I called you a piece of shit in kindergarten.” It just didn’t sound sincere in my head and if it didn’t sound sincere unspoken, I was sure adding my voice to it would only make it worse. I needed something else and quick because Porter was looking like he was ready to bolt.

“Um,” I said to ease into the conversation. “So, I wanted to say that I’m really sorry I was such a douche to you, you know, before.”

If it’s possible, he got even stiller. Only his eyes moved cautiously toward me. “You mean in kindergarten?”

He said it like there was no way it could be true, but he got it on the first guess, so I figured his incredulity was more or less a show. “Yeah, then. I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

He looked at me. Even turned his shoulders partway like I was actually sitting there trying to have a conversation. “That was forever ago. We were just kids. Forget about it.”

I couldn’t tell if he was accepting my apology or not, which probably meant that he wasn’t. His knee started bouncing again and Mr. Spitz tapped Porter on the shoulder and pointed to his closed pad. The meaning was obvious and I found I was immensely curious to see what lay beneath the cover.

Reluctantly, Porter flipped the book open and hurried to find the first clean page. The reason was obvious. Pages filled with a face, Fiona’s face fluttered through the air. One after another, she smiled and frowned and glowered at me and each one was better than the last.

“Shit,” I said and Porter slouched forward in defeat. “You’re a little obsessed.” He flipped faster and I saw something else. I wasn’t ready for it. Not even a little bit and I sputtered. “Was that me? Go back.”

He hesitated but made the right choice and flipped the page back to the one with my face on it. But it wasn’t just that it was my face. It was my face twenty minutes ago when I was deciding to come sit by Porter and make good with the past. There was no chance that it wasn’t because he’d even drawn himself in the distance.

There was no way he was that fast, but there was also no way he could have known what I was planning to do today. The date scrawled across the bottom of the page confirmed he’d done it two days ago.

He slumped back in his chair, which I took as an invitation. Flipping the page, I found my face again, but this time she was in it, too, and not in a way that I liked. It made my stomach feel like it was full of sand.

I turned to accuse him, to ask him what the hell he was up to, but he was already through the door. I followed, unable to shake the feeling I was being watched or stalked or otherwise invaded.

“Hey, freak!” I called after him rounding a corner in time to see Fiona gifting him with a perfect smile. It soured on me and I choked.

Her eyes were full as rain clouds as she stalked toward me, all wide and fierce. I noticed the green stone in her ring as it moved toward me lightening fast and as her fist crashed against my cheek, I wondered if I made the same face Porter had drawn.

And knew that I had.

* * *
Valerie is up on Wednesday with Part 2.  Come back and check it out!

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